We know the pillars of democracy _ the courage to do the right thing, freedom of expression and all those seemingly important, nice-sounding things _ risk becoming a joke when those in authority start behaving like three-year-old kids.
That has already happened, and the joke is a sad one.
The incident in question is a recent press conference given by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung. Mr Chalerm must have realised that Santa would probably not be making a stop in Bang Bon, where his home is, this year, so he went into full pouting mode.
Mr Chalerm refused to be interviewed as long as a certain reporter, with whom he was on less-than-friendly terms, was present. The reporter in question was Somjit Navakruesunthorn, who works for TV Channel 7.
The attack on Ms Somjit did not come out of the blue. Last week, the deputy prime minister and Ms Somjit engaged in a heated interview-turned-argument which was seething enough for a video clip of the verbal exchange to receive several thousand internet views.
Mr Chalerm was speaking to the reporter about the upcoming Pitak Siam rally on Saturday and Sunday at the Royal Plaza. Ms Somjit asked if Mr Chalerm, as deputy premier in charge of security, would be there to oversee the rally.
Instead of answering the question, the deputy prime minister accused the reporter of being ill-informed, saying she spent too much time with the opposition Democrat Party. He said that's why she was not aware of the progress made by the government.
The reporter said she could sue him for the remark, which Mr Chalerm welcomed, saying he had done nothing wrong.
Ms Somjit retorted: "If you calling me sympathetic to that party is not defamatory, would me calling you servile to [ousted premier] Thaksin Shinawatra amount to defamation?" Mr Chalerm said: "That's definitely defamation."
After the event, Ms Somjit said she would not take the matter any further, dismissing it as no big deal.
The deputy prime minister, however, has proven less gracious.
His remarks yesterday were essentially aimed at barring Ms Somjit from doing her job as a reporter.
It was a thinly veiled attempt to isolate the reporter from her own peers, a childish and unbecoming act coming from someone whose authority is second only to the prime minister.
Mr Chalerm's bullying comments remind me of a famous saying: If you are not with us, then you are against us. That kind of "fan club" attitude often echoes well amongst Thai people, many of whom are conformists with a group mentality.
It's because of this attitude that our society has become so deeply polarised and mired in political conflicts, even after the root causes of those conflicts are long gone.
Is it a good model for people in our society to follow? Of course not. As a deputy prime minister who is pushing for a political pardon for Thaksin to pave the way for national reconciliation, Mr Chalerm must show a higher degree of tolerance for political differences.
Some people may say that it's foolish to set Mr Chalerm against such a high standard of behaviour when it's widely known that the deputy prime minister is an outspoken type, with a shoot-from-the-hip attitude.
It's not uncommon for him to make soundbites first and mend whatever problems are caused by them later.
That he reacted to Ms Somjit's less-than-pleasant questioning by simply stonewalling her is therefore perhaps not surprising.
In the grand scheme of things, his reaction may be but a speck amongst the many important events that happened yesterday.
So why bother with it? Why is there a particular need to pick on him?
My answer is that Mr Chalerm's actions bother me deeply, because it's this kind of attitude _ one that shuns and disengages from people who think differently, or who question our beliefs and compel us to explain our standpoint _ that has led Thailand into the malicious political entanglement we can't get out of, and that has basically ground Thailand to a standstill.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Atiya Achakulwisut
Position: Deputy Editor (Day)